It has been a month since the conclusion of SITF2023 (Seoul International Travel Fair) held in Seoul. The 38th installment of the annual event took place from May 4th to 7th, 2023, at COEX C Hall in Samsung-dong, Seoul. Since its inception in 1996, SITF (previously called KOTFA) has continuously played a crucial role in the development of the international tourism industry and fostering exchange between countries.
Unlike previous years when the fair was held in June, SITF2023 took place in early May. While the event organizer, KOTFA, did not specify the reasons for the change, it is speculated that it was done to support travel agencies and related companies that faced restrictions for the past 3 years and 4 months due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The fair aimed to provide them with a prime opportunity for a strong comeback as international travel begins to reopen.
Reviews of SITF2023 are crucial for its ongoing role in revitalizing the international tourism industry, especially as it currently stands as the sole international travel fair held in Seoul since the suspension of the HanaTour Travel Expo. Despite the noticeable decline in scale compared to pre-pandemic times, the participation of over 150 diverse companies from more than 40 countries is a substantial accomplishment, considering the challenging circumstances faced by government tourism agencies, airlines, travel agencies, hotels, and other travel-related organizations and companies over the past three years.
We express our gratitude to the government tourism authorities, hotels, and travel agencies that invested significant resources and actively participated in SITF2023, even during difficult times.
Regular attendees of SITF2023, such as China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Guam, were present. Notably, three Central Asian countries, namely Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, which have shown great interest in the Korean travel market in recent years, actively engaged in promotional activities.
The Director of the Malta Tourism Board, Mr. Endo Singo, who is passionate about pioneering the Korean market, was busy communicating with visitors and conducting business consultations. Similarly, the Mongolian booth, consisting of a large delegation including a traditional dance troupe and musicians, was bustling with visitors throughout the fair.
One of the most eye-catching booths at SITF2023 was the booth representing Seychelles, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean. The director, Ms. Amia Jovanovic-Desir, passionately promoted Seychelles, leaving no time to spare. We look forward to the continued efforts of Seychelles in gaining greater recognition among Korean travelers.
Notably, some countries that usually held a significant presence were absent. Surprisingly, Japan, which has actively valued the Korean tourism market and has an established Korean office and organization, did not participate. Perhaps they considered that they were doing well enough without the need for promotion during the reopening period. Additionally, Georgia, which used to send large delegations for many years, did not participate. Georgia likely made the decision not to participate due to limited returns compared to the investment cost.
Similarly, the U.S. Tourism Authority used to choose to participate in the HanaTour Travel Expo instead of SITF, which had coincided with a similar period until it was not suspended, and did not join the Seoul event this time as well. It is possible that preconceived notions or biases influenced their decision.
The absence of Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, and other major players in the tourism industry who had been actively marketing in the Korean market for a while was also notable.
In this year’s SITF2023, there were several notable individuals. Apart from Amia, the director of Seychelles that I mentioned earlier, there were also Mr. Endo from Malta and Mr. Zhang Ruoyu, the director of the China National Tourism Office Seoul as well as Ms. Zoe Kuo from the Taiwan Tourism Bureau Seoul.
The directors of tourism boards actively and energetically engaged in the fair, spending most of the four-day event at their booths, attending to the visitors. It was the first time I witnessed such active and lively participation from tourism board directors at SITF. In the booths of other participating countries like Hong Kong and Macau, it was rare to have the opportunity to meet the promotional representatives, probably due to their busy schedules.
SITF2023 follows a trade fair format. Exhibitors showcase and promote their products while also making sales. Visitors come to see the exhibits, enjoy the displays, and even make purchases of the appealing products. However, SITF has been a slightly different approach. It was almost impossible to directly sell non-tangible travel offerings to the visitors, not to mention the language barrier that exists.
This aspect has been a major source of dissatisfaction for the organizations and companies participating in SITF (previously KOTFA), as they have invested significant costs. Consequently, the organizing organization KOTFA has separately prepared B2B seminars and B2B tabletop meetings to address this issue.
Organizing B2B seminars and tabletop meetings was not held this year due to several challenges. As the travel market has collapsed during the pandemic periods, concerns about the participation of travel agencies were uncertain. However, from next year onwards, it will be essential to include such small-scale events like the Travel Mart B2B seminars.
Another area requiring improvement is the lack of a media room for interviews. The noise from continuous events within the exhibition hall makes it difficult to conduct meaningful interviews, and video interviews were impossible. It is necessary to secure a separate room to facilitate video interviews and recordings.
One of the remarkable achievements by the organizing company, KOTFA, is the successful establishment of a comprehensive website. The website’s content and format were excellent. However, it is unfortunate that the KOTFA Daily News is still only available offline. Additionally, pre-event promotion was inadequate, and there was insufficient interest in post-event media coverage, which also needs improvement.
Many friends in the world tourism industry often inquire, ‘What are your thoughts on participating in SITF? Can it yield favorable outcomes?’ The response remains consistent: ‘Undoubtedly, but it requires thorough pre-event preparations. Clear objectives must be established, and the results should be measurable. Furthermore, it is crucial to craft press releases both before and after the event to ensure awareness of your participation. These fundamental practices are essential. If one expects success without adhering to these basics, then participation may not be advisable.'”
It has been a month since SITF2023 concluded, but there has been no contact or email received from any of the participants or organizers. Networking is one of the main reasons for participating in such events. Handing out brochures, exchanging business cards, and manning the booth are not the end of the job. The most important thing is to maintain and develop relationships. That is the key to success.
By Jungchan Lee?Korea Travel News
People in the SITF 2023